The good life

His political career, though it had brought great calamities both on the House of Stuart and on the House of Bourbon, had been by no means unprofitable to himself. He was old, he said: he was fat: he did not envy younger men the honour of living on potatoes and whiskey among the Irish bogs; he would try to console himself with partridges, with champagne, and with the society of the wittiest men and prettiest women of Paris.

Paul Barillon d’Amoncourt,
the marquis de Branges (1630–1691), was the French ambassador to England from 1677 to 1688.

Excerpt From
Thomas Babington Macaulay
The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 3

You needn’t be Lord Plushbottom, wearing knee-high silk stockings, sporting shoes with a silver buckle to succumb to the attraction of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Nor is it beyond reason to isolate one’s preferences to short-tailed game birds and sparkling wine from the Ardenne region of France.  I believe each of us has a singular recipe for the good life.

Happily on the whole I reckon we haven’t any but the grossest impositions which seek to predict the good life. Those violations of personal discrimination come from the likes of schoolmarms who are prim, strict, and brisk in manner. Beyond those inhibiting traits exists a vast opportunity for expression. Ask anyone what constitutes the good life and you uncover an array of enterprise.

If the recommendation for the good life suffers the hint of excess, it is useful to remark that the objective is not so much preliminary as consequential.  The good life is a reward not an incentive. Like dessert, it can be rich. When one commences construction of the ideal manifestation of life, more often than not the current build is but a skeleton of the ultimate architecture.  The composition of the good life requires time and discernment. And while we hasten to equate the good life with a fine wine or a highly distilled cognac, it is useful to recall for example that the so-called peasant dish osso buco is by any measure nonpareil.

an Italian dish made with veal shank containing marrowbone, stewed in wine with vegetables and seasonings

Don’t get me wrong, I am not forfeiting refinement from pleasure.  Rather I merely add to the choice.  It just happens that I prefer a full-bodied wine or blended whiskey to one which is highly distilled. Perhaps it captures my personal vulgarity. But at this stage of my life I see it more as fossilized or petrified than indelicate.

Over time, after a piece of wood has been buried under ground, minerals can slowly become deposited in the tree’s cells. These minerals harden and turn into a stone mould as the organic material around them dies away.

Nature houses a curious progress from nothing to plenty and back. This ineffable life is characterized by sometimes coarse manipulations. Whatever the evolution, we have little control of the outcome. Yet within the line of our existence, however short or long it may be, we develop sensibilites. How long that development lingers before it expires or is snuffed is not part of the plan. Living the good life is not a race (though often it is apologized as the attempt to get the best before it is too late).

None of us is so foolish to pretend to know when it is too late. Nor I suppose do any but the most disturbed dwell upon the intractable subject. Instead some of us are clever enough to play the odds sufficiently to devote ourselves at a reasonable time to the good life. Like downsizing (and I suppose like all the other terms characteristic of aging and transformation) the good life at time requires some elimination. Getting rid of stuff isn’t purely a matter of removal. As life narrows so too do our senses.  Either we see less or we consider there is less to see. The answer is purely psychological not empirical; and therefore irrelevant.  The only relevance is what it is we wish to preserve for our enjoyment. As my erstwhile physician quipped today, “Methinks we could reduce home to the basic fundamentals of Denis, a car wash, Apple, a bicycle and of course – bacon!” This, by the way, was his rejoinder as a worldwide vagabond to my assertion that I was a homebody. As pinpoint as it is, however, it serves as well a complete and exact metaphor for the underlying reality, embracing the five senses of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch – and that sixth unidentified sense (I shall spare you my elucidation of the metaphor).